tv Washington Week PBS December 28, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm EST
gwen: 2012 was a test of a presidency and of a congress where american voters got a say and cliff hanger ace bounded. we explore it all at years end on "washington week." from the snows of iowa, through the heat of the debate, to election night, the political divide wydened. the u.s. re-examined its role abroad and a second term president claimed it. we look ahead to what happens next with michael duffy of "time" magazine.
john harwood of cnbc and the "new york times." doyle mcmanus of the "los angeles times" and karen tumulty of "the washington post." >> covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capital. this is "washington week" with gwen ifill, produced in association with national journal. corporate fuppeding for "washington week" is provided by -- -- corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> wherever our trains go, the economy comes to life. norfolk southern, one line,
infinite possibilities. >> we know why we're here, to chart a greern path in the air and in our factories. >> to find cleaner, more efficient ways to power flight. >> and harn es -- harness our technology for new energy solutions. >> the people of boeing are looking to tomorrow to build a better tomorrow. >> that's why we're here. >> additional corporate funding is provided by -- prudential financial. additional funding is provided by the annenburg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. 2012 was a remarkable year one
that was shaped by other exploration of america's essential divide, red vs. blue, yes. but also red vs. red. congress vs. the white house and when it came to foreign policy, whether and how to intervene. we begin, of course, with election 2012. >> thank you, new hampshire. tonight we made history. he is the worst republican in the country to put up against barack obama. >> if you've got a business, you didn't build that. >> president obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planets. my promise is to help you and your family. >> when you pick up that ballot to vote, you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation. >> there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. 47% who are with him. >> i have just called president obama to congratulate him on
his victory. >> and whether i earned your vote or not, i have listened to you. i have learned from you. and you've made me a better president. >> when a president is seeking a second term voters have clear options, stay the course or throw the bum out. so what 2012, karen in the end, was it a referendum or a choice? that's the question that we kept having. >> it was the exact question we kept asking a year ago. given the state of the economy, given how most people felt whether the country was on the right track, it should have been a referendum on barack obama's performance. but his campaign was determined to make it a choice between him and mitt romney. and what was really remarkable is by time election day rolled around, the election had almost become a referendum on mitt romney. gwen: yeah, funny how they turned that around. after it was all over, a lot of
the things we didn't believe during the campaign, the obama people said oh, we figured this out. we know who our voters are. we know where to spend the money. we thought they were boasting. and it turns out they were right. >> the one thing, really, i think defied everybody's expectations is what the obama campaign said they were going to do, was that they were going to turn out an electorate in 2012 that looked very much like the electorate in 2008, that they were going to get huge numbers of african americans and young people. that they were going to mobilize the hispanic vote. a lot of republicans couldn't believe these polling numbers. there were so much talk of skewed polls. after the election the romney campaign said they just couldn't believe that the obama operation was capable of doing this. >> karen, to what extent do we
think that the electorate that they produced in 2008 and 2012 is a function of obama himself as opposed to the changing face of the country? >> it's both of those things. i mean, it is -- it is unclear whether the kind of appeal that barack obama had for young people, for instance, could translate to some other candidate. certainly it's the case with the african-american vote. but the fact is the republicans are up against a real demographic problem here because they won the white male vote handily this time. and the problem was that this was the first election that that really wasn't enough. and that is a foretaste of what they're looking forward in coming elections. >> there's been a lot of handwritten outcome about money. at the end of the election it turns out that barack obama had raised a billion dollars,
nearly a quarter of that in the last two months all mostly from small donors. looking ahead a little bit, what does this mean about the future of money? will it get worse, anything? >> this was a $2 billion presidential election, just an unfathomable sum. but most of the outside money which is the big question mark was on the republican side. and it did not succeed, not only in the presidential race. they came up short in a lot of senate races as well. so the question is -- how effective this money really is if it cannot be coordinated with the campaigns. one thing that we do know that it did do is it made this race a lot more negative. the numbers and the analysis really shows there was a lot more negative advertising because outside groups are not capable of putting forward the biographical or the positive schematic. they are there to attack and to
tear down the opponent. >> i want to know what it means for the future. have we seen what amounts to a real alignment? do democrats have some kind of a lock for the next couple of cycles or have republicans started to figure out what they needed to do? gwen: that last part is a difficult question. they don't know. >> a lot of the same conversations that you hear republicans having now, the democrats were having. for instance, they were worried in the 1980's that they were losing young people to the republicans. i think the -- you're going to see a big turnaround on a number of issues. already we're hearing a lot of openness on the part of the republicans. for instance, on immigration. i think that we are in the middle of these negotiations now. i think this is also a test of where the republicans are and whether or not, in fact, they can find their footing. again, not just on a
presidential level but a congressional one as well. gwen: and maybe they can do better recruiting because they conflicted with richard murdoch and todd akin in missouri who served to be a great kiss traction not only in the state but the candidate. >> and also high profile nonwhite candidates. karl rove's group is going to be putting a lot of money into recruiting hispanics to run as republicans for the legislature. gwen: well on to the bhorne won because this year "time" magazine named barack obama of course as its person of the year. but how have four years in office and especially this year changed the president and the presidency? >> the state of our union is getting stronger. and we've come too far to turn back now. >> if you're one of the more 250 million american who is
already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance. >> for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that i think same sex couples should be able to get married. >> i cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and col passion for our state and the people of our state. >> we're going to have to take more meaningful action to prevent more acts like this regardless of the politics. gwen: how evolved is he now, michael? >> well, you know, getting re-elected changes every president. barack obama will be changed by his election as well the question is whether for good or if ill? when you get re-elected, you come back. you've been reaffirmed.
the public loves you even by three points an you start dreaming big. you don't have to worry about the polls. it's clear obama wants to go in that direction. he's talking about this big -- doing a fiscal solution whether now or later some time this year. he's talking about immigration reform. has another set of agenda items. let's think about this for the state of the union. you can hear in his voice some different things already. he's drawing firmer red lines. in public, even tonight when he talked, there's a little more steel, a little more firmness than what he said. zpwoin that because he has this mandate he talks about. he said his mandate wasn't his mandate. it was the american people. he also said in the last few days that he didn't want to surrender to the status quo. does he have the ump to follow that? >> you can see he has more leverage. where it starts and stops, i don't think they know yet.
he's reading about other presidents an then overread their mandate. he didn't want to make that mistake either because that can happen. because even if obama has changed as a result of this, it's not clear that a lot else has changed or that anyone else has. you know, the congress is still in partial or effective republican control and the democrats aren't embracing it. >> has he given up on being a unifyier? does he still believe it is possible to bring the two sides of the aisle together? >> i think he does. and i think he's increasingly more pragmatic sounding than the bulk of his party. we've seen him try to make concessions that his party will not accept. there have been times where he wanted to do things that people in his party would not let him do. on the brighter side of
changing washington, that is kind of the mandate that everyone as skibed to him. he actually talked about it when he ran. it is almost an impossible thing to pull off and jet it's what ever voter wants most. >> i wonder if the imperatives to unify and swing big can be in conflict with one another. i wonder if in some ways the very republican problems that karen was talking about for, their electoral problems, demographic problems could work in his favor and help him on both of those counts on the issue of immigration reform. because republicans feel a very serious need to get right with latino voters. >> i think that's his biggest opportunity. and it may be his own party who may not want to do it quite as quickly as the republicans do. we'll see what happens. on entitlement reform where republicans would like him to put cut ostb table now or later in the kwleer, again problems with his own -- year, begin,
problems with his own party. >> i think he's thinking about military reform. these are things that need bipartisan support would suggest that if he could pull them off he could be doing some change. it's been so long since we've seen the parties work together. even one measure on which there was progress would be an improvement. >> one of things that struck me about his campaign is that he didn't lay out a being, long detailed agenda. there was that interview that was off the record. in his first term he was going to d everything. he was going to do still louse, -- stimulus, climate control. >> he should have a much bigger agenda being reer -- re-elected. >> i think he has much less room to maneuver on some of his
agenda items that he's been telling us. gwen: let's talk about his limitations because it's coming from capitol hill. relations between either end of pennsylvania avenue have seldom been more separate. >> why do people insist that we have to have a political fight on something there's no fight. there is absolutely no fight. but my god, do we have to fight about everything? >> the situation between the president and the speaker have fallen apart as they have for the last three and a half years. >> there's too much at stake for us not to be rowing in the same direction. >> republicans aren't about to write a black check or anything senate democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff. >> i've got one mandate. i've got a mandate to help
middle-class families and familys that are working hard to try to get in the middle-class. that's my mandate. >> gwen: it's almost like exhausting every avenue. >> and the speaker's question, do we have to fight about everything? and the abs to that is yes, we do. the two parties are in a state of permanent warfare. the margins are reasonably narrow in the congress. and the margins in presidential races are narrow. the president won decisively but only by three percentage points. i think it's important not to exaggerate the acrow moany that we see in -- acrimony. it took us a long time to do the right thing in civil rights legislation. but we are seeing the perfection if i could use that term of the ways in which the
two pears have become polarized in ways that overlap ideology, region and partisan and so the walls are getting thicker and thicker. and buzz of that it trickles down to the state level. and the gerrymandering that we see that reinforces the strength of people in particular pockets in the country means that most members now fear a primary challenge more than they fear a general election challenge and that gives all the incentives for ideolo gs to push -- gwen: is it fair to say that either side is being more intrasigent? >> yes, because they're a more ideological party. the block of conservatives is more than the block of liberals. the competition within the republican party has a higher of purity than democrats do. 60% of the votes that mitt
romney got in 2012 were from people who call themselves conservatives. only 42% of the votes the president got where from people who call themselves liberal. a more ideological republican party a bheert find it more difficult to compromise a party who has a problem in primary elections, pushed mitt rom fli to the right in ways that complicated his ability to win the general election and created some of these extreme candidates who trash their chances of regaining the senate. >> obama said that when he was elected all this would change because the republicans would real these that whole party of no thing was not working do you think he was right about that after 50 days? >> i think there's a chance he will br just right enough to get something done on the fiscal cliff. we saw the president this harch meet with the bipartisan leadership in congress. remember the republicans because of the intransigence we talked about their caucus
sought the speaker es plan for a plan b. that weakened the republican negotiating position . and now the president has maximum leverage because the tax cuts are due to expire by the end of the year. mitch mcconnell said he was hopeful and optimistic that they could get a deal that they could pass. the reason that that could happen if mitch mcconnell lets it happen, john boehner may feel no option but to put that on the floor for pass adge whether or not most republicans are for it. that would be the realization of that -- >> wouldn't that violate the principle that would have govern the policy that nothing wowlingd pass unless the yort of the majority support it. >> it would violate the principle. some democrats think that mitch mcconnell is ready to force john boehner's hand. we know the republicans are going to lose the fight of
taxes because tax rates are going to go up for every -- the only question is how many people they go up for. so if you already know what the outcome is going to be, the question is how much punishment do they want to take? it is possible that they would wait after january 1. they could say we're going to cut taxes now instead of vote to allow them to go up. gwen: let's move on. because there's one more thing we want to go to. from iran to syria to libya to egypt to israeli, palestinian standoff over gaza, the obama administration's wishes have seldom been.raedpt >> we and the world haveed join in condemning the brutality of the assad regime. >> no one wants to determine what happened that night in benghazi more than the president and i do. >> and this administration has either been guilty of colossal
incompetence or engaged in a coverup. >> a red line should be drawn right here. before iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bottom. >> -- bomb. >> i will not keep american es in harm's way a single day required than is absolutely necessary for our national security. gwen: there's a lot of unfinished business. >> you can call the year of 2012 the year of unsolved problems. par of that didn't include, congress orks north korea. even china is bumping up against its neighbors and it's striking how little of this was discussed. but the economy always gets in the way of foreign policy. about the only piece to foreign policy that made its way to the campaign is first president
obama's often repeated claim that he had taken doubt osama bin laden. and the benghazi. there's a coverup going here. something's wrong. it ended up being the wrangled poor susan rice's poor talking points. but even under that one, there was a bigger picture and a bigger december lesson that we can draw, which is the fighting in libya that produced the attack on the american consulate is part of the very long aftermath of what we used to call the arab spring. john kerry said we shouldn't call it that. it's going to take longer than one spring. and the people who did it were not members of the old al-qaeda. they were an off-shoot. they were inspired by al-qaeda. osama isn't there anymore. and that it's -- and the old al-qaeda probably doesn't have the capability to do 9/11
anymore but the problem of extremism is still out there and we have a very long way to go. >> i was going to ask about one topic you didn't touch on -- iran. looking back on what the president has had. have you seen any change on that approach? has he gone from containment of let them have the bomb but we'll manage it to a more con frontational issue? >> we're told that, in fact, over time, the president went through a long period of laying all of the pieces on this thing and they studied and studied. there were two schools of thought. could you contain a nuclear iran or could you not? and it's always been a narrow -- you can always get democrats to fight about this. by the end of it, and we'll
never know how much was the political pressure and the problem of the election but obama did take a stand. he dru a line. not every israeli is happy where he dru the -- drew the line. every year we say this is going to be the year of the decision of iran, right? it's still 18 months away from having nuclear capabilities. the iranians ra either -- are either going to back down. the president usually delivers on his promises, we may have a military intervention. >> we're accustomed to think that foreign policy is a secondary concern for the president. will events allow that to be the demace a second term? gwen: question quick, quick answer. >> they never fully allow that to be the case. he still wants his agenda for the next two years will be
mostly domestic. but every president at that point runs out of gas domestically and suddenly discovers how much fun diplomacy can be like every other two-term president. barack obama will turn into a foreign policy president. gwen: we'll be watching for that. we have to go for now because the conversation will continue online. all that stuff on "the washington week" website. you'll find links and the latest over the battling turnover fiscal cliff. we'll see you here next week on "washington week." good night and happy new year.
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